As a book of wisdom written to a son from a father, Proverbs offers plenty of insights into the world of education. It doesn’t get much more classical or Christian than King Solomon’s sage advice. This week in Convocation, we highlighted two verses in particular. Proverbs 17:16 asks, “Why is there in the hand of a fool the purchase price of wisdom, since he has no heart for it?” And Proverbs 18:2 tells us, “A fool has no delight in understanding, But in expressing his own heart” (NKJV).
Other versions of the first verse use the word “tuition” or say, “It is senseless to pay to educate a fool” (NLT) if his heart is not in it. As parents who pay for their children to be educated, our ears ought to perk up here. Just because we pay for our kids to attend school does not mean they will automatically gain wisdom. For that, the students themselves must have a heart or desire for that learning and wisdom. This relates to what we often refer to as a “love of learning.” Complementing the first verse, the second passage speaks to delight in learning from another angle. Students generally fall into one of two categories: those who with humble hearts delight in gaining understanding from others (including parents, teachers, and authors), and those who take delight in expressing their own hearts as authoritative, speaking more than listening and seeking to be understood more than to understand. You can guess which approach our broader culture values more.
Proverbs challenges students to ask themselves whether their desires are rightly aligned before attempting to learn or gain understanding. But these verses also challenge parents to care for the hearts of their children when it comes to how they send them off to school. Are we sending our students to class with the purchase price of wisdom in hand but without helping to shape their desire to be there? Are we coaching them through difficult tests and quizzes and assignments as well as helping them remain humble when they succeed? Are we encouraging their love of wisdom itself more than the appearance of knowledge or the success of achievement? Do WE love understanding and learning ourselves? May the Lord help us all, parents and students alike, to get the true value from our education, beginning with a posture of humility before God and His word. As the great medieval, classical Christian educator Hugh of Saint Victor famously wrote, the most important elements of learning are, “A humble mind, eagerness to inquire, a quiet life, silent scrutiny, poverty, a foreign soil. These, for many, unlock the hidden places of learning” (Didascalicon III.12, 94).